KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The IOC and FIFA, the world’s richest and most powerful sports monoliths, are now in open warfare over the international calendar.
The world football federation kicked off a rapidly escalating confrontation earlier this year by setting up a ‘feasibility study’ into staging its World Cup every two years. On the face of it, that would invade the scheduling territory of the International Olympic Committee’s summer Games.
None of the statements from FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his loyal aide, development director Arsene Wenger, have sought to address how the looming dates clash may force broadcasters and sponsors to choose between World Cups or Olympics.
That could end up damaging the event revenue prospects for both events, their governing bodies and the sporting and national federations among whom their profits are shared. That is crucial to the survival, never mind development, of many minor sports and domestic football and other competitions.
Until the weekend FIFA had been given a clear run, albeit increasingly voluble opposition had erupted from the European and South American football confederations as well as many high-profile current directors, players and managers.
Thomas Bach, Infantino’s Olympic opposite number, sidestepped the issue at a recent media briefing.
Now however the IOC’s executive board, headed of course by Bach and doubtless fully representing his opinion, has fired a pointed diplomatic missile at FIFA’s project.
This is the most serious confrontation between the two sporting power blocks for many years. Even when FIFA was on the brink of collapse under the weight of the FIFAGate scandal in 2015 the IOC resisted point-scoring and offered words of support.
The situation now is totally different.
A statement from the IOC board noted “FIFA’s plans to change the football competition schedule and to hold the World Cup every two years.”
It then took the unprecedented step of quoting the “strong reservations and concerns” expressed by “a number of international federations of other sports, national football federations, clubs, players, players associations and coaches.”
The IOC pointed up the impact on “other major international sports” such as tennis, cycling, golf, gymnastics, swimming, athletics, Formula 1 “and many others.”
A doubling-up on the World Cup “would undermine the diversity and development of sports other than football.”
The IOC also suggested that an increase in men’s events would challenge the development of women’s football though FIFA would claim that its proposals are aimed at quite the opposite outcome.
No mainstream sports director has yet queried football’s place in the Olympic Games programme but, now that the IOC has put its cards on the table, such calls may not be long in coming. European clubs would be delighted but the loss of prestige would be highly damaging elsewhere around the world.
Finally the IOC said it supported “calls of stakeholders of football, international sports federations and major event organisers for a wider consultation, including with athletes’ representatives.”
In a final barbed comment the IOC concluded that such a widespread consultation “has obviously not taken place.”
The Executive Board (EB) of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) takes note of FIFA’s plans to change the football competition schedule and to hold the World Cup every two years.
A number of International Federations (IFs) of other sports, national football federations, clubs, players, players associations and coaches have expressed strong reservations and concerns regarding the plans to generate more revenue for FIFA, mainly for the following reasons:
Impact on other sports – The increased frequency and timing for the World Cup would create a clash with other major international sports. This includes tennis, cycling, golf, gymnastics, swimming, athletics, Formula 1 and many others. This would undermine the diversity and development of sports other than football.
Gender equality – The increase in men’s events in the calendar would create challenges for the further promotion of women’s football.
Players’ welfare – The plans, in particular the doubling in the frequency of the World Cup, would create a further massive strain on the physical and mental health of the players.
The IOC shares these concerns and supports the calls of stakeholders of football, International Sports Federations and major event organisers for a wider consultation, including with athletes’ representatives, which has obviously not taken place.